The proportion of mystery shopping checks that discovered rule breaches by street fundraisers fell by almost a quarter last year, according to the Public Fundraising Association.
Figures from the membership body’s latest compliance and enforcement data show that the proportion of mystery shops that highlighted incorrect behaviour fell by 23 per cent in the year to the end of March, from 48 per cent in 2014/15 to 37 per cent.
The fall comes despite a significant rise in the value of fines over the same period: the PFRA announced in April that 14 of its members paid £58,420 in fines in 2015/16, a 61 per cent increase on the previous year.
Mystery shops are carried out on the small proportion of PFRA members – 16 charities and 11 agencies – that are actively engaged in street fundraising. It is done by contracted agents who pretend to be members of the public signing up to make donations.
A spokeswoman for the PFRA told Third Sector that the discrepancy between the value of the fines and the number of rule breaches incurred by members could be explained by an increase in the level of punishment in September 2016 for certain transgressions.
Members of the PFRA pay fines based on the number of penalty points they incur, which are given out in batches of 20, 50, 100 and – since September – 200, depending on the severity of the rule breach.
The fines, which do not have legal backing, are levied on the body’s charity and agency members that are found to have breached the PFRA Rule Book or the Code of Fundraising Practice.
The PFRA found that its members were fined for three top reasons: fundraisers giving non-compliant solicitation statements; failing to display ID badges so that they were visible from a distance; and standing within three metres of a shop doorway, pedestrian crossing, cashpoint or station entrance.
Organisations whose fundraisers fail to give adequate solicitation statements – which inform the public, where applicable, that they are working for an agency and that they earn a wage – have since September been liable to a penalty of 200 points, the spokeswoman said.
"Even though the financial penalty figure was higher than last year, there were fewer cases of the rules being breached, so standards are significantly improving," she said.
The spokeswoman said street fundraising organisations received an average of 35 mystery shopping visits each between April 2015 and March 2016, up from an average of 30 visits the previous year.
Organisations that reach a threshold of 1,000 points in a year are fined £1,000, after which any further breaches incur a £1 fine for every additional penalty point incurred.
The spokeswoman said that over the course of the year to March members incurred average penalties of 1,834 points (equivalent to £1,834), up from 1,303 in 2014/15.
Commenting on the decline in mystery shopping checks that led to fines, Peter Hills-Jones, chief executive of the PFRA, said in a statement: "Our members are committed to improve each and every year, and these numbers are proof they mean what they say. Feedback from our local partners on the ground, across the UK, is that standards are improving."